Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)
This is a totally ridiculous slice of film noir gold. It's 67 minutes long and approximately 62 minutes of that is hard-boiled narration, but man is it awesome. The DVD that NetFlix sent me is made from a pretty bad print, with missing frames, random hissing on the soundtrack and serious contrast issues, but it almost makes it better, like discovering some forgotten gem hidden in an archive somewhere (I realize this is one of the most famous noir movies, but go with it). Ann Savage is hilarious and nasty as the femme fatale, and the whole thing is perfect entertainment.
My Night at Maud's (Eric Rohmer, 1969)
I have to be honest: Although I had heard of Rohmer and was aware of his place in the French New Wave movement, when my brother suggested that we watch a Rohmer movie, I didn't recognize a single title on his IMDb page. So I picked this one, which is, from what I can tell, his best-known work, and it seems like it was a good place to start. There are things about it that are very French New Wave (one character notes that he and Maud would end up making love "just to pass the time," which seems like an inherently French thing to do), yet unlike, say, early Godard, its central characters are not lowlifes and ruffians. They are, rather, intellectuals, and the whole movie is a bunch of intellectualizing. It actually reminded me a lot of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset series, albeit with a slightly haughtier tone. It started a little sluggishly, but the central set piece (the titular night) is fascinating, even if the characters spend most of the time debating a piece of philosophy by Pascal with which I am only vaguely familiar. It's billed as a "moral tale" (one in a series of six that Rohmer created), but I'm not quite sure yet what the moral was. I'll have to keep thinking on it.
Nil by Mouth (Gary Oldman, 1997)
Oldman's first (and, to date, only) directorial effort starts slow, but oh man when it gets going it's seriously intense. I sort of expected your standard "losers on drugs" movie, but in many ways it's closer to a Mike Leigh film in its unflinching portrait of working-class Londoners. It's darker and more violent than a Leigh movie, sure (there are a few intense scenes that are hard to watch), but it's got the same core family drama holding it together. Ray Winstone is absolutely outstanding and I don't know where the hell the Academy was on missing him at Oscar time. I'd love to see Oldman direct something else if it was this powerful and raw (and if I could watch it with subtitles as I did this one because I couldn't understand the thick accents).